The Great F1 Glow Up

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Late on a Friday night in mid-November – just a few minutes before reigning world champ Max Verstappen slid his rocket ship out for a midnight Q1 – a guest on the third-floor roof of the Heineken House hospitality area tossed a half-empty beer can onto the track. SPY watched the can spin drunkenly through the cold night air, a potent metaphor in a shimmering silver livery. Not all brand adjacencies work.

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There was a reason Heineken House was getting out of hand. Celebrations of the Brandapalooza Las Vegas Grand Prix (not the real name, just the vibe) had started rough the night before. Ten minutes into the first free practice session on Thursday, a loose drain cover had assaulted the underside of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari with all the subtlety of an overserved conventioneer at the Spearmint Rhino. That first session was canceled. Ferrari was penalized for unclear reasons, and the second session kicked off at 2:30 am Vegas time without fans, who had been ushered out of the grandstands. In lieu of refunds, F1 issued a $200 voucher to . . . its online store. There’s already a class action lawsuit in the works.

What irked the fans, maybe the can thrower, and definitely Verstappen, was that practice session, the track, and racing generally did not seem to be the primary focus of the event. Scattered across America’s unlikeliest city were events hosted by a pick ’em of multinationals: Marriott, Netflix, PUMA, Sports Illustrated, Fortnite, BetMGM, and on and on. Those events drew people not even feigning interest in the race. One woman SPY spoke with drove over 300 miles from San Diego to attend an exclusive Saturday morning workout led by Peloton instructors Becs Gentry and Selena Samuela. Another couple attended Chase’s Thursday night event at the Speedway, keen to catch a glimpse of multi-hyphenate Michael B. Jordan (SPY can confirm he looked great) and inhale a delicious meal prepared by Chef Douglass Williams.

The problem, in a sense, was inventory. There was more on offer than could be crammed into any individual’s schedule. Even the drivers – the oscillators of their internal clocks ticking unevenly – were booked from 1pm to 5am. In a city built on excess and FOMO, the buzz of F1 pushed frenzy into another gear. For fans of the sport, a simple question floated over the neon proceedings: Can a competition fundamentally about focus thrive amid distraction? Maybe, but the everything, everywhere, all at once quality of the proceedings resolved into a muted casino hum. All the events were so important that nothing seemed important at all – save for the race itself.

Before the rubber met the heavily re-inspected road on Saturday, SPY wandered through the paddock, which felt less frantic than any of the concierge desks in town. There was a guessing game to be played: Who had come out of fealty to a sponsor and who had come out of genuine interest. Gayle King stopped to take selfies. Former Red Bull athlete Shawn White and Nina Dobrev posted up near the Mercedes garage. Guillermo Rodriguez from Kimmell wore a custom race suit and stood at the edge of the “Black Carpet.” Elvis impersonators shouted “Welcome to the colonies!” cheerfully at members of the pit crew. Other celebrities flashed across big screens during the pit walk. On TV commentators well versed in TKs and TKs failed to keep up.

At one point, SPY spotted security marching a handcuffed, disheveled couple through the paddock. They were perhaps the most sympathetic figures on hand. They’d presumably snuck in to see something, maybe even the race, which turned out to be far more entertaining (80+ overtakes, including one in the race’s final moments) than anyone could have predicted.

F1 has had a tough year stateside. Declining viewership reflects the fait accompli quality of the competition. There’s an old English saying about soccer: “22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” F1 has become: “Drivers race furiously in circles, and the uncharismatic Dutchman wins.” In the absence of genuine drama, the Las Vegas Grand Prix wasn’t much more than a nexus for brand activations – DRS for luxury goods seeking exposure at scale.

Heineken, a presenting sponsor, will remain interested in F1. Unclear if Heineken’s American drinkers will as well.

The Rare Unpaid F1 Endorsement

Jessica Hawkins, an Aston Martin Team Ambassador, is paid to drive. But when she’s not on tour with Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll, she’s driving in the W series or the movies. She was a stunt driver on No Time to Die. This is all to say that she’s deeply cool. Naturally, SPY asked her what products she schleps around the world. And, honestly, she seemed excited to talk about brands that didn’t have patches on her suit.

“I recently bought a new electric toothbrush — a Philips Sonicare electric toothbrush — now that I’ve used it, I’m never ever ever gonna be able to not use it. Your teeth just feel amazing. The other amazing product I have is obviously my bobble hat, but that goes without saying.”

From the Race Day Notebook…

  • The Sphere is both impressive and weirdly menacing — and that was even before the emoji face strapped on a crash helmet. SPY could see the top of it from outside of a room at the Tuscany, and it felt like a modern-day version of the eyes Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.

  • The vibe in the paddock, post-first practice fracas on Thursday, was quiet. SPY caught plenty of team personnel taking vape breaks and saw Haas team principal Guenther Steiner absolutely holding court outside team offices. A regularly scheduled press conference was about half full — and was seemingly only attended by members of the racing press despite being the biggest story of the weekend.

  • Guy Fieri did a pop-up event on Friday night at his restaurant in The Linq Hotel, where he glad-handed and took tequila shots with fans. The best reaction SPY witnessed came from two 20-something women who walked by, saw him, and promptly squealed like The Beatles had just hit the stage at Shea Stadium as they begged him to turn their way for a good photo.

  • In between Practice 3 and Qualifying on Friday night, SPY saw a couple renew their vows inside the Paddock’s Vegas wedding chapel, officiated by, naturally, an Elvis impersonator.

  • Looking for some good holiday gifts? Here are two smart recommendations from Peloton Instructors Becs Gentry and Selena Samuela:

    • Gentry recommends a Sous Vide. “It’s a time-saving delight with a baby as you cannot overcook the food even if you start the process first thing in the morning, and it makes everything taste so great!

    • Samuela loves her new Weber Grill. “It’s so easy and fast to cook healthy meals like grilled veggies and grilled meats (if one eats meat).”

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